Skip to main content

You got any Boom Boom Lemon?


(SPOILERS) The dying protagonist subgenre is a difficult one to get right. The customary approach is one of world-weary resignation on the part of the poisoned or terminally ill party that sweetens the pill, suggesting they’re being done something of a favour. It’s also a smart idea to give them some sort of motive force, in order to see them through the proceedings before they kark it. Such as a mystery to solve; there’s a good reason D.O.A. is generally seen as a touchstone in fare of this ilk. Kate fumbles on both counts, leaving the viewer with a rather icky poisoning – you don’t want to be too distracted by that sort of thing, not least because suspension of disbelief that the already superheroic protagonist can function at all evaporates – and a lead character with the slenderest of relatability working for her. Most damningly, however, is a revenge plot that’s really rather limp.

The idea that 87North – the brains behind John Wick, Nobody and Atomic Blonde – are appropriating the EuropaCorp template wholesale, now Besson’s outfit is in a fix, seems to be further confirmed by Kate. It even has an entirely forgettable, insultingly lazy title working against it, almost as a badge of pride (this didn’t harm Lucy, of course, but if anything, its plot ought to have done that, rather than spawning a megahit). EuropaCorp already did the dying assassin thing a few years back with the actually pretty good but underseen 3 Days to Kill, where grizzled Kevin Costner is given an experimental drug to prolong his life while he tracks down an arms trafficker. There, however *SPOILER* Kev doesn’t buy the farm, doubtless as EuropaCorp had an eye on a franchise, little realising they weren’t going to make aging Kev the next Liam Neeson.

Besson’s outfit also has history with the female action protagonist, long before woke associations smothered any individuality or coherence in realising such characters (Besson’s the last person to be associated with the woke cause). Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays her) very evidently comes from the line of Besson trained assassins first seen in La Femme Nikita, and subsequently Colombiana and Anna (oh look, another one-name title, yawn). The benchmark is probably Leon/The Professional, though, in terms of outlining how a minor might fall into the trade of killing for a living; flashbacks in Kate outline her initiation into these leagues. But…

There’s very little to hang onto in Umair Aleem’s screenplay (previously of Bruce Willis “effort” Extraction). About the only distinctive element is the Japanese setting and perky pop soundtrack (also Japanese). But even these are rendered rather unremarkable by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s strictly formulaic direction. Nicolas-Troyan’s an FX guy who made his feature debut with forgettable sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the kind of forgettable sequel only studios attempting to extend fairy tale hits beyond their means would think was a good idea (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Alice Through the Looking Glass). I’m guessing David Leitch and Chad Stahelski saw potential there, but it doesn’t pay off the way it did with Ilya Naishuller and Nobody. Nicolas-Troyan is competent, and a few action sequences raise a pulse (the penthouse punch up with Miyavi’s yakuza Jojima is more than decent), but more often than not, the timing is just that bit off being crisp and enervating.

Anyone with the briefest familiarity with this kind of movie will know from the first scene that Woody Harrelson’s handler Varrick will be revealed as a bad seed. Kate’s quest to do for her poisoner – she’s fallen victim to Polonium 204 – inevitably incorporates some regret and atonement for past deeds done, in this case assassinating a Yakuza member in front of her daughter. Note that Kate has no qualms about murdering people for a living, only doing it in front of their kids. A distinction we’re supposed to respect; Kate is that kind of movie. Miku Martineau gives a decent performance as Ani, said daughter, whom Kate inevitably befriends etc, but the chart of their friendship is strictly routine, all the way to Ani discovering the truth.

I hesitate to say it, because I’ve always found Winstead a winning performer, but she’s part of the problem here. There’s zero weight or substance to her character, something all the beatings, shootings, stabbings and increasingly advanced signs of radiation poisoning ironically serve to underline. Winstead’s clearly angling for the kind of chops Charlize displayed in Atomic Blonde (and Mad Max: Fury Road) but she never comes close. She’s better positioned as the resourceful everywoman (Live Free or Die Hard, The Thing, 10 Cloverfield Road) than angling for super-competent action chicks, certainly on the evidence of this and the godawful Birds of Prey.

But in complete fairness, it also goes back to the part. A dying Mel in Edge of Darkness carries with him years of regret and loss. All Winstead has on her side is the makeup department. Disbelief in the logistics takes over quite early on, as Kate begins calling on autoinjectors like they were candy, which seem to do the miraculous trick on stemming the deleterious effects of imminently failing vital organs.

By starting with a downbeat premise, Nicolas-Troyan is stuck with a movie that’s never going to be light or virtuoso, which inevitably leaves one looking about for dramatic meat. Woody simply trots out his Woody act, which is fine; it works. There’s a decent scene with Jun Kunimura (Tanaka in the Kill Bills) as Kate’s believed-objective Kijima, which rather highlights the benefit of underplaying when everyone else is shouting. But such moments are few and far between. Given 87North’s general track record, one vaguely wonders if Kate’s fizzle was less to do with any of the component parts than the hex that is making a movie for Netflix.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism